The Wings of Song Stilled: The Rise and Decline of Felix Mendelssohn's Lieder in London, 1829-1915

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2012-12

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Abstract

Felix Mendelssohn visited London for the first time in 1829, becoming an instant celebrity by virtue of his performances on benefit concerts and with the London Philharmonic Society, as well as his interactions with London’s musical establishment. His celebrity status persisted through the remainder of his life and for several decades after his death. Mendelssohn’s compositions in many genres regularly appeared on London concerts, including his songs for solo voice and piano. But after an approximately fifty-year period of establishment and rise in esteem, the solo songs began to disappear from London’s concert stages.

This study first examines the musical environment that allowed the songs to flourish, namely, his relationships with some of the leading publishers of the day, as well as London’s premier performers. It traces the first appearances of the songs on benefit concerts and their progression onto some of London’s most established concert series. It also traces at their publication, singly at first and then in collections, by firms such as Ewer and Company, Wessel and Stapleton, and Novello and Company, which also contributed to their growing popularity.

The document then explores the many factors that led to the songs’ decline, including the rise of newer composers, the general decline in Mendelssohn’s popularity, changes in the London concert scene, and changes in the editorial practices of the musical press. These, along with the social and musical transformations that followed the death of Queen Victoria and the transition into modern, twentieth century London, were largely responsible for Mendelssohn’s songs disappearing from the concert repertoire.

The data for this study were obtained primarily from music newspapers and journals from the period; early memoirs, biographies, and repertoire studies; the letters of the Mendelssohns and their contemporaries; and concert programs. This last category includes an unpublished compilation of early twentieth-century concert programs from London’s Bechstein Hall (now Wigmore Hall) that was assembled by its archivist, Paula Best.

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Keywords

Mendelssohn, Felix, Lieder, London, Concert History, Reception History

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